Tips for practising fiddle ornamentation

Ornamentation is fundamental to getting that authentic fiddle sound. If you want to make your fiddling sound like real traditional Irish fiddle playing, you really need to learn to play with good ornamentation. So here are my tips for practising fiddle ornamentation.

Especially when you are starting out, there’s a danger that as you start to play with more ornamentation, the rhythm and flow of the tune can be disrupted. So it’s important to find some ways to practice your ornaments that keeps that rhythm and fluency – that all important ‘lilt’ – in the tune.

In this short video, I share some of my top tips for practising fiddle ornamentation.

The key to playing with good ornamentation is to practice your fiddle ornaments with good rhythm. You don’t want your ornaments to break that foot tapping rhythm of the tune. So I recommend the following method as a great way of practicing fiddle ornamentation:

Take a short phrase that includes some ornamentation that you want to practice. This could just be a single cut, or a long roll, or it could be a phrase with more than one ornament. Keep it to one or two complete bars or measures (i.e. the phrase starts on the beat, and ends at the end of a bar or measure).

Play the phrase through without any ornamentation at all. Just the notes, and the bowing if you are already comfortable with a bowing pattern for this phrase.

Then practice ‘looping’ the phrase. As soon as you get to the end of the phrase, start it again without stopping the beat. You want to be able to play the phrase over and over without stopping or changing the beat. Try tapping your foot as you play it over and over with no pauses.

Once you are happy looping the phrase, try this: Play the phrase, slower now, once through with no ornamentation. Then when you loop back, immediately again this time with ornamentation. Once without, once with. All the time keep the beat going and don’t allow the beat to pause or ‘hiccup’.

If you need to go slower, go slower. You are trying to make sure that the rhythm is exactly the same whether you are playing with ornamentation or without. This way, when you play with your ornamentation, the beat of the tune will stay strong and consistent.

BONUS: You can use this same practice trick with bowing as well! If you are struggling with a bowing pattern, loop the phrase alternating between playing with a basic bowing pattern (e.g. all separate bows), and then playing the bowing pattern you are learning.

Fiddle players, if you would like to take your fiddle playing to the next level, take a look at my online fiddle courses, including my free Irish fiddle course.

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